We didn’t have a vehicle nor did we have any friends in Morogoro. We did, however, have the name of a missionary “in case of emergency”. We decided that getting into town to get food was indeed an emergency of sorts so we called an older missionary who gave us the name of a taxi driver who “spoke some English”. He had no idea what he was in for. Our first meeting went something like this:
Idiots (that’s us): Hello
Taxi-driver: How are you
Idiots: FINE, HOW ARE YOU? (in very loud English because somewhere in our upbringing every young American child is told that if you just yell English loudly and slowly in any foreigners face, they will understand you)
Idiots continue: What is your name?
Idiots: oh John? (pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of saying his name)
Idiots: Oh, your name is Naam? We thought you said John?
Taxi-driver: Yes, my name is John
Idiots: Oh, ok John
Idiots: (engage in awkward laughter) Ok, is it Naam or John?
Idiots: Ok, John…
Idiots: (getting less amused) Are you tricking us? You’re being tricky, aren’t you?
Taxi-driver: my name is John
Idiots: Ok, John, let’s just…(interrupted by taxi-driver)
Idiots: Ok, are you trying to tell us that your name is John Naam? Right. Ok. Your first name is John and your last name is Naam?
Taxi-driver: Rolls his eyes and somehow manages to get our annoying selves in his taxi and to the market.
Idiots: *wildly waving goodbye* Thanks for the ride, John Naam!!!
I distinctly remember congratulating ourselves on overcoming such a difficult language barrier. But why then did John Naam stop answering our phone calls? We wanted to give him work? Why didn’t he like us?
We stewed over this for a while. What did we do to turn John Naam away? We continued to ask ourselves these questions one day when we visited a local camp. We laid in the swimming pool (with rafts that we packed from America…let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine what kind of horrible monsters become missionaries and then have pool rafts on their packing list?). “Wait”, I said. “You guys, we are so stupid (at least I got that part right), his name is not John Naam. We merely didn’t understand his accent. He was trying to say “My name is John. My naam is John.” Get it? “ We were so pleased with ourselves for solving the great name mystery. I remember gazing up at the mountains and gently running my fingers across the water, with a smug smile lighting my face while thinking “I can do this. I got this.”
For your information, we were wrong on all accounts. His name was not John Naam nor was he trying to say “my naam is John”. Naam, as we would come to find out in language school, is the way a male will answer when his name is called out. Ya, I can’t blame ole’ John Naam for leaving us high and dry.
***Special thanks to our dear friend, Eugene Mwea, who always laughs with us and AT us…and who will never let us live this down.